Greece opened a new, “closed” migrant camp on the island of Samos on Saturday. The camp is the first of five new camps to feature stricter access measures, with features like x-ray scanners, magnetic doors, and surveillance cameras.
These camps are being referred to as “closed” camps due to their increased isolation and elements of confinement. The Samos camp has a detention center that asylum seekers can only gain access to by having their fingerprints and electronic badges scanned. The gates of the camps will be closed at 8:00 PM, and those who do not return in time will be met with disciplinary measures.
Greece was given 276 million euros ($326 million) to establish new camps on each of its five Aegean islands. Leros, Lesbos, Kos Chios, and Samos all experience the greatest influx of migrants by sea from nearby Turkey.
The Greek government says that the new camps will meet European standards, with higher quality plumbing, living conditions, and designated areas where families can be with each other.
These camps will be a vast improvement over the previous facilities, which became infamous for their dilapidation. The previous facility on Samos–where some migrants are still currently living– lacked heating and functioning toilets, and was ridden with rats.
By Monday, those living at Samos’ older camp will be moved in to the new facility.
NGOs and other groups criticize Greece’s closed migrant camps
Although these camps represent a positive step in the quality of Greece’s migrant facilities, multiple NGOs and aid groups have criticized them for being “closed,” featuring ramped up security and surveillance.
The organizations, Amnesty International amongst them, accused Greece of practicing “harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees.”
45 NGOs and civil society groups asked both the EU and the Greek government to stop their plans to control the activity of the migrants in their camps.
The groups believe that the restriction “will impede effective identification and protection of vulnerable people, limit access to services and assistance for asylum seekers, and exacerbate the harmful effects of displacement and containment on individuals’ mental health.”
Mireille Girard, the UN refugee agency’s representative in Greece, said that:
“The word ‘closed’ comes up often and this is concerning,” adding that “asylum seekers need protection, they are not criminals or a risk for the community, they are people who need help.
“For us, camps should be open. The government has assured us that they will be.”
Greece has been the primary point of entry to Europe for over one million asylum seekers since 2015. Most migrants come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The recent unrest in Afghanistan has sparked concerns over a new flood of migrants that could potentially overwhelm the system.
At the EUMED 9 summit held on Friday, PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on the subject of migration, that “One thing is sure: we will not allow a repeat of the uncontrolled migration that we experienced in 2015.”